Our Local Horror


I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Moors Murders. My first conscious recollection of it comes in the early Seventies, via the New Musical Express of all places, commenting on Lord Longford’s attempts to get Myra Hindley released on parole. I think I probably had absorbed some idea about this horror by osmosis: I am a born and bred Mancunian, and this is our City’s tragedy. It is lodged in our collective psyche and it will remain so until it achieves final resolution, which with Ian Brady’s death, it may never do. There is still a boy’s body out there on the Moor, awaiting discovery, awaiting burial, needing the gift to his family of a place to go where they can feel connected to him, and can mourn as we all mourn the people we have lost.

It was there. It kept coming up, as the years passed, as Longford continued his stupid campaign. I remember a comment, from, I think, the NME, about the different kind of tragedy it would have been if Longford was right, if Hindley really had undergone a change of heart, and was no longer a danger who needed to be kept in prison. I wondered about that, acknowledging it in the abstract.

I could do things like that then, regard the Moors Murders in the abstract, without connection to the reality of things, because I was ignorant, because when the tragedy had happened, when the trial took place, I was only 11. Then things changed.

It was 1987, late summer, Friday afternoon. I came home from work, picked up the Evening News. The headline story was that Myra Hindley had been back to Saddleworth Moor with the Police, in secret, and that she had assisted them to locate the grave and remains of Pauline Reade who, like Keith Bennett, had not been part of the trial because it was not then known that there were more than the official three bodies.

Perhaps it was only me, though I doubt it. It was as if a psychic pall descended across the city. I had no idea what it felt like to be in Manchester when the story broke, when the trial was being conducted, but it felt as if we had been carried back to those days, as if a cloud had descended over all of us, and it lasted throughout the weekend. There was nothing else to think about, no avenue of escape, nothing that wasn’t affected by the still very fresh wound that had been done to all of us.

It felt like everything was alive again.

I don’t remember talking about it to my mother. She, after all, had not only lived through the original stories, but was the mother of two young children when they were current. I can only imagine, because I never asked, what fears she might have had for the chance that her own children, or either of them, might have been victims.

I didn’t know then that that risk had a degree of reality to it.

For the first time, I understood my ignorance. I knew buzzwords, Moors Murders, Hindley, Brady. But I didn’t know what had happened, and when, and where. And I suddenly needed to know, to understand what was being talked about when those references came up.

Today, I’d have turned to the Internet, to Wikipedia. These things did not exist then. Instead, I bought a book, the controversial book, Emlyn Williams’ Beyond Belief, a comprehensive detailed account of crime and trial.

It demanded my attention as soon as I started it. It was a workday, but I found myself hiding the book in a drawer, diving in to devour paragraph after paragraph whenever I could steal time. Once I had begun, I needed to proceed in the most straight of lines, until I had absorbed everything. This had happened to Manchester, it was part of our history, part of me in some weird and inexplicable sense I couldn’t properly understand and certainly couldn’t control. I just had to know.

So I found everything out, except for Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, who were not part of things when the book was written.

The funny thing was, a few months later, when I tried to re-read the book, I found it impossible. It couldn’t hold me, and I lasted no more than about seventy pages, at most, before giving up. I had just needed to know once. I didn’t need to revisit it, indeed I was incapable of revisiting it. But I knew. I was inside the circle. I knew what this was, and what it meant.

I still didn’t discuss it with my mother, even after realising that when Brady and Hindley were preying on young children, like Keith Bennett, I was almost of the age they were looking for, and we visited Ashton-under-Lyne market, where they hunted. I can’t, and don’t even begin to think of myself as a potential victim, but in other circumstances, a year or two later if they’d not been caught, I was in what you might call the event space for targets.

When stories about them returned to the papers, as they did from time to time, I read them as I would any story affecting Manchester. I had internalised the horror. I knew what it meant. There was no longer any of this foolishness of considering whether Myra Hindley could ever be released: given the stated intention of members of the victims families to hunt her down and kill her if ever that happened, she could never be released. My every instinct is, and always has been, towards redemption, to reformation, but what I had read and what I had understood made me more conscious of retribution. What she had done, what he had done, rendered them unfit ever to be allowed back into human society. It is Old Testament, it is simple vengeance, or rather complex vengeance because I have no personal stake in this except an accident of geography, but why should such as they have a life, even a belated and shrunken one, when John Kilbride, Pauline Reade, Lesley Ann Downey, Keith Bennett and Edward Evans had none?

And why should the entirely human need for vengeance hang over the survivors, the ones who had to deal with the loss, the absence, the theft of life that shuld have come to fruition, why should these people be put at risk of trial and punishment, of their own imprisoment for the likes of her? It would have been the ultimate insult.

As for Brady, he has shown himself up in the colours we have always known he wore. He is an evil, twisted, manipulative little sicko. I really do not know whether he could genuinely have relocated Keith Bennet’s grave, or whether the passage of fifty years on Saddleworth Moor had rendered the landmarks unreliable. For the purpose of giving himself one tiny corner that he could claim to control, it doesn’t matter. As long as people believed he might be able to provide that answer, he had a hold on something.

Now he’s taken whatever it was to the grave, smug to the last that we didn’t know, that he was smarter than us, that he was superior in this one degree. His ego fed by others’ pain, as it always has been, evil little shite. If Time Travel were possible, someone should go back to when the little bastard was 10 and beat his brains in with a brick.

He’s gone, and good riddance. You can say so many things – currently, I’m thinking that we shouldn’t bury his body, we should feed it to the pigs, but then there are the pigs to consider and what is done with their bodies afterwards: would you want to eat their bacon?

And it’s not over. It’ll never be over until that grave is found, until those remains are removed to a place of haven, with whatever ceremony that most comforts the Bennett family. Until then there’s a hole in Manchester’s soul, and it will be there forever.

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4 thoughts on “Our Local Horror

  1. “Oh Manchester so much to answer for”, as Morrissey put it. Did ever another crime cast such a long, painful shadow over a city?

  2. It’s not something of which I make a study but my first thought is only Jack the Ripper and Whitechapel. There was also the ‘Red John’ (?) killings in Glasgow. Not a company you want to be in.

    1. Indeed, but perhaps it was the tender age and innocence of Brady and Hindley’s victims that makes the Moors Murders seem somehow even darker (although it’s not as though there’s a comparative scale between such devastating events, whoever the victim)

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